By Jack Wilkinson
Northern Ireland 2-0 Estonia: Niall McGinn and Steven Davis seal perfect start
Watch highlights as Northern Ireland set off on road to Euro 2020 with win
Last Updated: 22/03/19 2:32pm
Northern Ireland kicked off their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Estonia at Windsor Park.
Niall McGinn's crisp volley and Steven Davis' penalty saw Michael O'Neill's side home in the second period after a frustrating first half of missed chances in Belfast, Paddy McNair guilty of missing a sitter.
Home form played an integral role in Northern Ireland's qualification for Euro 2016 and that formula looks to hold the key in their bid for consecutive appearances at the same tournament for the first time since 1986.
Northern Ireland's first competitive victory since September 2017 sees them join the Netherlands as the early front-runners in Group C ahead of Sunday's clash with Belarus - live on Sky Sports Football - where six points can be secured from their opening two games.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell (7), Dallas (6), Cathcart (6), J. Evans (6), Lewis (7), McNair (6), S. Davis (7), Saville (6), McGinn (8), Lafferty (6), Jones (8).
Subs: Magennis (5), Ferguson (n/a), McLaughlin (n/a)/
Estonia: Lepmets (5), Kams (5), Baranov (5), Tamm (5), Vihmann (5), Pikk (5), Kait (6), Dmitrijev (5), Mets (5), Ojamaa (5), Henri Anier (6).
Subs: Vassiljev (5), Zenjov (5).
Man of the Match: Niall McGinn
Northern Ireland nearly got off to the perfect start as a long throw was flicked out to McGinn at the back post, but he dragged a volley wide of the Estonia goal inside two minutes.
That chance was followed by an even better one on 19 minutes, Jordan Jones crossing for Paddy McNair who headed into the ground and over from six yards with the goal gaping.
Estonia settled after McNair's miss, but Northern Ireland remained a threat, Jamal Lewis unfortunate not to win a penalty after Nikita Baranov brought him to ground in the area shortly before the half hour.
But the chances kept on coming for the hosts. A minute after the penalty appeal, Craig Cathcart headed straight at Sergei Lepmets before Jones trickled a volley wide on 39 minutes, but the breakthrough before the break eluded Northern Ireland.
Michael O’Neill made five changes from the defeat to Austria in November as Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Craig Cathcart, Jamal Lewis, Paddy McNair and Kyle Lafferty were drafted into the Northern Ireland starting line-up.
Within 11 minutes of the restart, Northern Ireland finally made the breakthrough, Kyle Lafferty cushioning a cross into the path of McGinn, who thundered his first Windsor Park goal past at Lepmets' near post.
Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, a bystander until 71 minutes, preserved Northern Ireland's lead with a crucial save, staying big to thwart Estonia striker Henri Anier after he had been released through on goal.
And two minutes later the hosts were handed the chance to add a crucial second when Karol Mets' high boot made contact with George Saville's thigh in the area.
Up stepped captain Davis who slotted his 12th international goal home to rubberstamp a perfect start to Northern Ireland's bid to reach Euro 2020.
- Northern Ireland picked up their first win in nine competitive matches (D1 L7) since beating Czech Republic in September 2017.
- Northern Ireland have now won their opening match in each of the last three European Championship qualifying campaigns.
- Estonia have never kept a clean sheet against Northern Ireland in five previous meetings, failing to score themselves in three of those games. However, this was the first match they'd conceded more than once against Northern Ireland.
- Niall McGinn's goal was his first in 13 appearances for Northern Ireland in all competitions, since scoring against Ukraine in Euro 2016.
- Ten of Steven Davis' 12 goals for Northern Ireland have been scored in home games.
Michael O'Neill: "A good win for us, it was never going to be an easy and straight forward game. We had opportunities in the first half and the longer the game goes on they would have more belief. But we go the goal in the second half and could have scored a few more. There are a lot of things we are pleased about and some bits to work on."
Northern Ireland resume their European Qualifiers at home to Belarus on Sunday - live on Sky Sports Football & Main Event (7.45pm GMT). Estonia, meanwhile, travel to Gibraltar on Tuesday - live on Sky Sports Red Button (7.45pm GMT).